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by Bamber Gascoigne

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Mickey Spillane (1918-2006) - pseudonym of Frank Morrison Spillane


American thriller writer, master of "hard boiled" style peppered with sex and sadism. Spillane is best-known for his private detective Mike Hammer, who appeared in his first published book I, the Jury (1947). The hardback edition did not sell well, but the paperback became a world-wide phenomenon. In the character of Hammer, the most chauvinist avenger among classical private eyes, Spillane created a dark counterpart to the knightly Philip Marlowe.

"The biggest part of the joke is the punch line, so the biggest part of a book should be the punch line, the ending. People don't read a book to get to the middle, they read a book to get to the end and hope that the ending justifies all the time they spent reading it. So what I do is, I get my ending and, knowing what my ending is going to be, then I write to the end and have the fun of knowing where I'm going but not how I'm going to get there." (Spillane in Speaking of Murder, ed. by Ed Gorman and Martin H. Greenberg, 1998)

Frank Morrison Spillane was born in Brooklyn, New York, the only child of John J. Spillane, a bartender, and Catherine A Spillane. Noteworthy, in The Twisted Thing (1966) Mike Hammer mentions his father; he was the one who comforted him when he hurt himself. In his youth Spillane read such writers as Alexandre Dumas and Anthony Hope, and was also fascinated by comic books. He graduated in 1935 from Erasmus Hall High School in Brooklyn, and then attended briefly Fort Hays State College in Kansas, but dropped out, and moved back to New York. Spillane worked as a lifegueard at Breezt Point, Queens, and in the 1940s he sold ties at Gimbles department stores.

Spillane began his writing career in the mid-1930s. His first stories were published mostly in comic books and pulp magazines. He developed Mike Danger, a private detective, and wrote among others for Captain America, Captain Marvel, and The Human Torch. During WW II Spillane served as a flying instructor for the U.S. Army Air Force in Mississippi and Florida; he never got overseas. In 1945 he married his first wife, Mary Ann Pierce, in Greenwood, Mississippi. They had four children. Achieving the rank of captain by the time, he left the service, and returned in 1946 to New York.

"Spillane writes with speed, and the rough-hewn poetry of his narrator creates a fantasy city, a NewYork of myth and dream, populated by the same character types as those found in the work of Daly, Hammett, and Chandler - good girls, black widows, thugs, frustrated cops, gang lords, corrupt society leaders - but delivered with a unique fever-dream fervor." (Max Allan Collins in Mystery & Suspence Writers, vol. 2, ed. by Robin W. Winks, 1998)

I, the Jury was written in only nine days. When the manuscript was passed to Editor in Chief Nicholaus Wreden at E.P. Dutton & Co., he said: "It isn't in the best of taste, but it will sell." Spillane told that he wanted an advance of $1,000 so he could build a four-room cinderblock house in upstate New York for himself and his young wife. The house was later named Little Bohenia. As a Signet paperback, I, the Jury became such success that Spillane quickly produced six more Hammer novels, five of them published between 1950 and 1952. The Long Wait (1951) sold 3 million copies in a single week in 1952. Spillane himself posed for the dust wrapper photographs of Hammer novels and starred in the film version of The Girl Hunters (1962). At home he usually wore T-shirts or tight wool sweaters and close-fitting blue jeans. He also refused to wear a necktie and boasted in the 1950s, that he still owns only one suit. When the British producer/director Victor Saville wanted to bring I, the Jury to the screen, Spillane insisted that they meet under the clock at the Pennsylvania Railway Station, not in some office. From there they continued to a bar on Third Avenue to make a deal.

"Crime novels are a good way to make money," Spillane once stated. However, the sixth Hammer novel, The Twisted Thing, did not appear until 1966. The friends of this ferocious detective included his secretary Velda, a dark-haired beauty, who is the tough soul mate of Mike, and Captain Pat Chambers of the New York Police Department. In the first novel Hammer investigates the brutal murder of his best friend. Eventually he discovers that his girl friend, the beautiful but bad Charlotte Manning, a lady psychiatrist, is the murderer. At the end of the story, she performs a strip tease in order to dissuade the angry Hammer from killing her. When he shoots her, Manning asks, "How c-could you?" and he replies, "It was easy" - one of the most famous last lines in popular fiction.

In Vengeance is Mine! (1950) Hammer is tormented by the memory of Charlotte and vows never to kill another woman, until a murderous doppelgänger of her is revealed to be a transvestite. The theme of crime and punishment - Hammer acting as the tool of some ancient God - continued in the following novels. Hammer often hears noises in his head, sometimes like the plunging pistons in a gasolinen engine, or kettledrums, or bells. In One Lonely Night (1951) a Judge argues that Hammer enjoys killing, which makes his as bad as those he kills. However, when it's a question of the Communist menace, Hammer swaps his .45 for a Tommy gun.

A beautiful woman, Berga Torn, clad only in a trenchcoat, stops Hammer's sportscar on a lonely road in Kiss Me Deadly (1952). She has escaped from a sanitarium, where she was referred by Dr. Soberin. However, her chasers beat Hammer, torture and kill her. Hammer starts to investigate the case, Velda is kidnapped by the Mob but Hammer rescues her. He finds out that Lily Carver is Soberin's mistress and has used him to get a metal box containing $2 million in heroin. Hammer gets his revenge – he kills her – but is left in the end in a burning house, trying to get away from the flames. The novel started Spillane's nine-year silence as a novelist. The hiatus ended with The Deep, a story of a tough guy, who returns to his old neighborhood – revealing in the end of the story that he is a cop now.

"Why should one of the most popular authors of the twentieth century need defending? Easy, as Mike Hammer might say: his subject matter and his approach were so hard-hitting, so individual, that Spillane repelled the more proper and staid among the Literary Establishment (and the Establishment in general, including Dr. Frederic Wertham and Parents Magazine and other unpointed arbiters of public morality.). And it has taken time, and changing mores plus the natural PR knack of Spillane himself, with such disarming tactics as funny self-parody beer commercials and the writing of award-winning children's books - to give him his rightful place as the living giant among mystery writers." ( 'Mecca Spillane' by Max Allan Collins, in The Big Book of Noir, 1998)

Spillane told once that he finishes his text in two weeks and do not revise anything he has written. He used a standard typewriter, and often he could go on for five or six pages without changing a single word. "Hell, I'n not an author, I'm a writer," he said. "I've got to make a living, somehow. I'm not writing just for fun. I'm not trying to educate the people. I'm just trying to entertain. If they put their money in the hat, that's all I want." Although critics tried to belittle the author's achievements from the beginning, Spillane had such defenders as Ayn Rand, who has said, that "Spillane gives me the feeling of hearing a military band in a public park." To his critics Spillane answered, "but it's good garbage." On a list complied in 1967 of all the best-selling books published in America between 1895 and 1965, seven of the top twenty-nine were written by Spillane. Especially during the height of anti-Communist paranoia, Hammer's unyielding, patriotic character comforted many American readers.

Spillane stopped writing full-length novels for many years after conversion to the Jehovah's Witnesses in 1952, and between 1973 and 1989, when he advertised Miller Lite beer. Spillane said that he was first attracted to the Witnesses by a member who proved him that Darwin's theory of the Evolution was in error. In the early 1950s Spillane became involved with a circus and did some trampoline work as well as being shot out of a cannon. Hammer was brought back with The Girl Hunters, in which the hero is still haunted by the memory of Charlotte. The book was followed by four more titles. Spillane's second wife, the actress Sherri Malinou, served as the model for several of the later Hammer book covers.

Spillane's only other series character, Tiger Mann, was inspired by James Bond boom. Mann works for an espionage organization funded by a radical right-wing billionare. The character was first introduced in novel Day of the Gun (1964). In his longest and most ambitious novel, The Erection Set, Spillane followed in the footsteps of Harold Robbins and Irving Wallace.

In 1983 Spillane married Jane Rodgers Johnson, a former Miss South Carolina, and twenty-eight years his junior. In 1995 the Mystery Writers of America finally presented him the Grand Master award. Spillane returned to comic books in the mid-1990s by co-creating a futuristic Mike Danger. Although he did not do the script writing, Spillane has completed a draft of a Mike Danger science fiction novel. Spillane also wrote two books for children. The Day the Sea Rolled Back (1979) earned him a Junior Literary Guild Award. Most of Spillane's short fiction was produced in the 1950s and published in Manhunt and such men's magazines as Cavalier and Male.

The unbeatable Hammer survived to the 1990s, outliving William Crane, Philip Marlowe, Mike Shayne, and Lew Archer. In Black Alley (1996) he wakes up from a coma and tracks down a missing $89 billion. Times have changed, and Spillane reveals his tough-guy's fondness for Wagner (1813-1883), the German opera composer, whose music had a strong appeal to the Nazis. Today, however, Wagner's music is almost unreservedly accepted without political overtones. In an interview at the age of 83, Spillane mentioned that he still writes and has finished a couple of adventure stories. The last novel about Hammer was under work. Spillane died in July 2006, at the age of 88.

For further reading: 'Death's Fair-haired Boy' by Richard W. Johnston, in Life (23 July, 1952); One Lonely Knight: Mickey Spillane's Mike Hammer by Max Allan Collins (1984); Murder in the Millions by J. Keneth Van Dover (1984); The American Private Eye by David Geherin (1985); Speaking of Murder, ed. by Ed Gorman and Martin H. Greenberg (1998); Mickey Spillane on Screen: A Complete Study of the Television and Film Adaptations by Max Allan Collins and James L. Traylor (2012).  Films: In 1962 Spillane portrayed his own detective character Hammer in The Girl Hunters. Except his own performance, he was not satisfied with the actors playing Hammer. According to Spillane, Kiss Me Deadly "stank", and Stacey Keach is a good actor, but "he doesn't know how to wear a hat". Other films: Ring of Fear (1953), Colombo series (1973), Mickey Spillane's Mike Hammer (1956-58, starring Darren McGavin, one of the scriptwriters was Bill S. Ballinger); Mickey Spillane's Margin for Murder (1981, starring Kevin Dobson), Mickey Spillane's Mike Hammer: Murder Me, Murder You (1983, starring Stacy Keach), The Return of Mickey Spillane's Mike Hammer (1987), The New Mike Hammer (1987). See also: "Hard-boiled" mystery writers Horace McCoy, Raymond Chandler, Jonathan Latimer, Dashiell Hammett. As a romantic hero who has taken the law in his own hand, Mike Hammer comes from the same literary tradition as Leslie Charteris' Simon Templar alias The Saint. Spillane's own model was Carroll John Daly, who started the hard-boiled school on mystery. HIs tough detective was named Race Williams. Daly was innovative writer and his use of the first-person style influenced Spillane. One of his most quoted line is, "Detective Satan Hall dropped to one knee and fired twice."

Selected bibliography:

  • I, the Jury, 1947
    - Minä olen tuomari (suom. Topi Leistelä, 1953) / Minä olen valamiehistö (suom. Tapio Hiisivaara, 1968) / Minä, kostaja (suom. Kari Nenonen, 1983)
    - Films: 1953, dir. by Harry Essex, starring Biff Elliot as Hammer, Preston Foster (Capt. Pat Chambers), Peggie Castle (Charlotte Manning), Margaret Sheridan (Velda); 1982, dir. by Richard T. Heffron, starring Armand Assante, Barbara Carrera, Laurene Landon
  • My Gun Is Quick, 1950
    - Tästä alkaa kosto (suom. Risto Kalliomaa, 1953) / Liipasin on herkkä (suom. Tapio Hiisivaara, 1968) / Silmä silmästä (= Tästä alkaa kosto, suom. Risto Kalliomaa, 1953)
    - Film 1957, prod. Parklane Pictures Inc., dir. by Phil Victor, starring Robert Bray (Mike Hammer), Whitney Blake, Patricia Donahue, Pamela Duncan (Velda), Booth Colman (Det. Pat Chambers)
  • Vengeance Is Mine!, 1950
    - Velda vimmastuu (suom. Olavi Linnus, 1954) / Kosto on minun (suom. Tapio Hiisivaara, 1969) / Kosto on minun (suom. Leevi Lehto, 1992) / Kosto on suloinen (= Velda vimmastuu, suom. Olavi Linnus, 1954)
  • One Lonely Night, 1951
    - Kuolet, ellet kerro (suom. Risto Kalliomaa, 1953) / Yksin yössä (suom. Sirkka Tuominen, 1970) / Kuoleman käskyläinen (=Kuolet, ellet kerro, suom. Risto Kalliomaa, 1953)
  • The Big Kill, 1951
    - Nainen ilman kasvoja (suom. Risto Kalliomaa, 1955) / Mike Hammer iskee (suom. Tapio Hiisivaara, 1967) / Mike Hammer iskee (suom. Leevi Lehto, 1992) / Rakasta ja kuole (= Nainen ilman kasvoja, suom. Risto Kalliomaa, 1955)
  • The Long Wait, 1951
    - Mies ilman muistia (suom. 1954) / Yhden on kuoltava (suom. Tapio Hiisivaara, 1967) / Pitkä odotus (= Mies ilman muistia, suom. 1954)
    - Film 1954, prod. Parklane Pictures Inc., dir. Victor Saville, starring Anthony Quinn, Charles Coburn and Gene Evans (Mike Hammer makes no appearance!)
  • Kiss Me, Deadly, 1952
    - Suutele minua, julmuri (suom. 1955) / Mike Hammer ja mafia (suom. Tapio Hiisivaara, 1968)
    - Film: 1955, dir. by Robert Aldrich, starring Ralph Meeker, Albert Dekker, Paul Stevart, Maxine Cooper, Cloris Leachman, Gaby Rodgers. In the film version, Hammer is "just a punk, motivated only by a narcissistic opportunism. When his assistance is sought by the police, he can only reply, "What's in it for me?" He assaults everyone, caring little for age, gender, and nationality, and its significant that his abuse of the faithful Velda (Maxine Cooper), a caring, sensitive woman, parallels the abuse of Lily (Gaby Rogers) by Dr. Soberin (Allen Dekker)." Novels into Film by John C. Tibbetts and James M. Welsh, 1999.
  • The Deep, 1961
    - Yö (suom. Arto Tuovinen, 1963)
    - Film 1967, Aslan yürekli kabadayi, prod. prod. Ugur Film (Turkey), dir. Memduh Ün, starring Ayhan Isik, Sevda Ferdag and Altan Günbay
  • The Girl Hunters, 1962
    - Älä odota armoa (suom. Antero Tiusanen, 1964) / Älä odota armoa (suom. Seppo Joenmaa, 1988)
    - Film 1963, dir. by Ray Rowland, starring Mickey Spillane (as Mike Hammer), Shirley Eaton, Scott Peters, Guy Kingsley Poynter
  • Me, Hood, 1963
  • Return of the Hood, 1964
    - Taisteleva huppukaulus (suom. Seppo Pekkola, 1970)
  • The Flier, 1964
    - Lentäjä & Seitsemän vuoden murha (suom. Seppo Pekkola, 1971)
  • Day of the Guns, 1964
    - Aikamoinen nainen (suom. Arto Tuovinen, 1966)
  • The Snake, 1964
    - Käärme (suom. Arto Tuovinen, 1965)
  • Bloody Sunrise, 1965
    - Verinen auringonlasku (suom. Arto Tuovinen, 1966)
  • Killer Mine, 1965 (novelettes)
    - Sinä, tappaja (suom. Seppo Pekkola, 1970)
  • The Twisted Thing, 1966
    - Kiero juttu, Mike Hammer (suom. Esko Hamilo, 1968)
  • The Death Dealers, 1965
    - Tappajain markkinat (suom. Esko Hamilo, 1967) / Kuoleman kauppiaat (suom. Reijo Kalvas, 1985)
  • The By-Pass Control, 1967
    - Lähtölaskenta, Tiger Mann (suom. Esko Hamilo, 1968) / Ohituskytkin (suom. Marja Hildén, 1986)
  • The Delta Factor, 1967
    - Hurrikaani (suom. Eero Raassina, 1970) / Tuntematon tekijä (suom. Tauno Peltola, 1985)
    - Film 1970, dir. Tay Garnett, starring Christopher George, Yvette Mimieux, Diane McBain, Ralph Taeger, Yvonne Carlo
  • The Body Lovers, 1967
    - Ruoska (suom. Esko Hamilo, 1969) / Kerrasta poikki, Mike Hammer (suom. Reijo Kalvas, 1985)
  • The Tough Guys, 1969
    - Kolme kovaa (suom. Heikki Kannosto, 1990)
  • Survival... Zero!, 1970
    - Päivät ovat luetut, Mike Hammer (suom. Esko Hamilo, 1971)
  • The Erection Set, 1972
    - New York, New York (suom. Jorma-Veikko Sappinen, 1987)
  • The Mickey Spillane Omnibus, 1973
  • The Last Cop Out, 1973
    - Tappajain ruletti (suom. Erkki Hakala, 1974)
  • Vintage Spillane, 1974
  • The Day The Sea Rolled Back, 1980 (juvenile)
  • Oh, Mike!, 1980 (script for musical, music by Cy Coleman, prod. 1981)
  • The Ship That Never Was, 1982 (juvenile)
  • Mickey Spillane's Mike Hammer: The Comic Strip, 1982-84
  • Tomorrow I Die, 1984
  • The Killing Man, 1989
    - Mike Hammer ja tappaja (suom. Leevi Lehto, 1990)
  • Murder Is My Business, 1994 (ed., with Max Allan Collins)
  • Black Alley, 1996
    - Pimeät kujat (suom. Jorma-Veikko Sappinen, 1996)
  • Vengeance Is Hers, 1997 (ed., with Max Allan Collins)
  • Golden Age of Marvel Comics, 1998 (ed.)
  • Private Eyes, 1998 (ed., with Max Allan Collins)
  • A Century of Noir, 2002 (ed., with Max Allan Collins)
  • Something Down There, 2003
    - Vaarallinen kolmio (suom. Jorma-Veikko Sappinen, 2007)
  • Byline: Mickey Spillane, 2005 (ed.  Max Allan Collins, Lynn F. Myers, Jr.)
  • Dead Street, 2007 (with Max Allan Collins)
  • The Goliath Bone, 2008 (with Max Allan Collins)
  • The Big Bang, 2010  (with Max Allan Collins)
  • Kiss Her Goodbye: A Mike Hammer Novel, 2011 (with Max Allan Collins)
  • The Consummata, 2011 (with Max Allan Collins)
  • Lady, Go Die!, 2012 (completed by Max Allan Collins)

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